Some of us learned the hard way that winging it in the virtual meeting room doesn’t always end well. When it comes to online meetings, there are some basic recommendations that go a long way in making the right impressions. It’s time to brush up on your Zoom etiquette. 

In March of the ill-fated year 2020, many of us suddenly saw the need to navigate the virtual Wild West that is online meetings. The reluctance was high, the rules utterly vague and the manual non-existent. Allas, we had no option but to conquer the steep learning curb.

Many of us can recount tales of embarrassment. Some oopsies ended up on YouTube, some saw a new life as a meme. In the early days, we bonded over the shared clumsiness and the dark humor we all desperately needed to come to grips with the new situation. Six months on, and there is no longer an excuse for what we now see as unprofessional behaviour.

A badly angled image showing your ceiling plus your hair and nostrils is no longer considered passable. These days, first virtual impressions count just as much as they do in real life. When it comes to the virtual meeting room, people make assessments not only on your appearance and behaviour but also on your living environment and lifestyle.


What can we say? It’s time to brush up on our Zoom etiquette.

To help you on your way, we list our top 5 virtual meeting best practices.

1.  Dress Code Zoom Etiquette or what your Outfit says about You

We get it, this is Aotearoa (we’re a fairly casual bunch to start with) and you’re working from home. But that doesn’t justify showing up for the meeting in your PJ’s or a tank top. Those in your bubble should be the only witnesses to your PJ’s at lunchtime, not your colleagues. It’s what you’d consider common sense, yet some companies saw a need to introduce a dress code for Zoom meetings.

Of course, nobody is calling for a suit and tie, but a nice dress shirt should be the norm, especially for meetings outside the office sphere. Depending on your work environment, a plain clean T-shirt or a jersey does the job just fine.

While we’re at it and before you jump online, a quick hair tidy-up is also a non-negotiable.

On the up-side? Nobody will notice if you didn’t brush your teeth before the meeting. And you can get away with anything you like below the waistline.

Bottom-line: A virtual meeting doesn’t mean you should skip a basic consideration for a professional appearance.

2.  Background Considerations: sometimes boring is good

When your background gets more attention than what you’re saying, you’ve got a serious problem in the Online Meeting Etiquette department.

Confrontational and unjust as it may sound, we mentioned earlier that you WILL be judged on your background and lifestyle. Nobody knows your living room is a mess when you roam the office corridor. But a Zoom meeting is brutally unforgiving with what is on show in the background. (Ask Todd Muller about his Trump cap in the background and the backlash he received for it.)

And in case you think it might not happen to you, the internet is rife with videos of goofy kids, half-naked spouses and sassy cats interrupting the Zoom meeting.

The obvious answer? Have a quick tidy up before you turn on the Zoom camera. You may even want to look into virtual backgrounds or blurred backgrounds. Just remember that you’re in a professional environment. Distracting, frivolous and irritating are not the adjectives you want to be associated with. Funny as it may be, The Star Wars Millenium Falcon does not qualify as an appropriate background for a virtual business meeting.

While you’re busy assessing your surroundings, make sure the lighting is good. Face a window if you can. It means the light from the window catches your face, but not the camera in your device.

Oh, and… close the door. Just saying.

Bottom-line: Keep the focus on you, not on what’s in the background. Chances are it will save you from some embarassing moments.

3.  Zoom Etiquette is in the Eye of the Attendee

Here’s an inside tip from the professionals.

There’s something weird going on with eye contact during Zoom meetings. When you look at a person’s eyes on screen, you appear to be looking away. Look into the device’s camera and you’re sweet. Unfortunately, there’s no way the camera and the display screen can be in the same spot. It’s annoying.

Knowing that psychology puts a very strong emphasis on the importance of eye-contact as a signal of trust, acknowledgement and respect, that’s a problem.

On top of that, some people are not that confident about making eye contact when talking. Also, have you noticed how there is the profound temptation of checking your own image for awry facial expression (Ah, the vanity!). And we haven’t even mentioned eye-shift caused by the sudden ‘ping’ of an incoming message.

So, here is a Zoom Etiquette tip for you! When you’re speaking don’t look at yourself or others on the screen, instead, shift your focus to the camera at the top of your device.  It will take some practice, but it will make an enormous difference in appearing as if you are fully participating in the meeting.

On a bonus tip side note, turn off your phone and the email notifications before you go into a meeting.

Bottom-line: practice looking into the camera to have direct eye contact with viewers.

4.  Big Brother is watching your Zoom Etiquette

Admit it, it was hilarious watching the person who took her device, with the camera and mic turned on… to the toilet.  Or the person who Zoomed from her closet, a quiet place hidden from the children.  It brings a sparkle to our doom and gloom filled days. Until it happens to you…

The message to take from this is obvious: beware of your Zoom camera and sound settings to avoid utter embarassment or overnight fame.

It’s good practice to enter a meeting and mute your mic straight away. If you classify as the chaotic type, it may pay to look into the setting that mutes your mic by default. It also deals with background noise.

As for the screen, leaving your video on is the polite thing to do during a Zoom meeting. Unless of course everybody else turns it off.

Last but not least, there is this! Clicking away from the Zoom home page to another window does NOT turn you your camera off.  I’ll say it again. People can still see what you are doing when you change windows.

Bottom-line: mute your mic when entering a meeting and remember: regardless of what open window is open on your device…..if your camera is on, you will be watched!

5.  Polite Zoom Tips for Hosts

Imagine this:  You’re hosting a dinner party at your house. You’re obviously the first one there, setting up and all that. But then when the party is over and everything has been said and done, you simply leave the scene. Do you think there is a chance your guests would be lost for words at your rudeness?

Likewise, when you host a Zoom meeting, you CAN NOT be the first to leave! Zoom Etiquette dictates that the polite thing to do is to stick around until everyone has left the meeting.  In the meantime, you may find people have questions they want to ask you face to face after everyone has left.

Bottom-line: Don’t be so quick to leave your own meeting…..The entire world is still some form of a lockdown, so where do you think you’d be rushing off to?

The take-away from this? While we continue to come to grips with a forever changed world, Zoom away lovely people.  Just don’t forget to use good video conferencing etiquette. Everyone will thank you, but the person saving face the most might actually be you.

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